FINAL: MSU drops First Four OT thriller to UCLA 86-80


Jaime Jacquez rises for a layup over Marcus Bingham Jr. (Credit: NCAA Digital Media Hub)

Trent Balley, Sports Editor

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Michigan State Spartans’ season ended Thursday night, with an 86-80 overtime loss to the UCLA Bruins in a First Four matchup of the NCAA Men’s Tournament. Both teams were No. 11 seeds with a chance to face No. 6 BYU in the East Region’s Round of 64 on Saturday.

The Spartans’ All-Big Ten third-team forward Aaron Henry ripped a 3-pointer to open the contest, jump-starting a 9-2 lead for the Spartans. Then, guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. led the Bruins to a flurry of their own, as he scored eight points in the first 5:39 of the game.

Spartan guard Rocket Watts later scored five points in a row thanks to a 3-pointer and a fastbreak finish, forcing UCLA coach Mick Cronin to call timeout with 8:47 to play in the first half. Out of the timeout, Henry and Gabe Brown nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Spartans a dozen-point lead. Joey Hauser also hit a 3-pointer shortly after to put the Spartans up by 14, their biggest lead.

In the final seconds of the half and the Bruins with the ball, a defensive breakdown on the part of Brown and Malik Hall allowed Jaquez to knock down a deep two at the buzzer. The buzzer-beater gave Jaquez a game-high 14 points at halftime, but it was the Spartans with the 44-33 lead.

The Spartans shot 5-for-9 from long range in the first half, a key reason for their double-digit halftime lead. Hitting two of those 3-pointers was Henry, as he finished the half with eight points, which tied for the team lead with Julius Marble II. Eight different Spartans found the scoring column by halftime, compared to five for the Bruins.

The second half saw a dramatic shift, as the Bruins opened with a 12-4 run to cut the Spartan lead to just 48-45. The Spartans recovered, thanks to some quick offensive work by fifth-year guard Joshua Langford.

With just over seven minutes to play, a Jaquez jumper made it a two-point game with the Spartans leading 64-62. After a pair of Hauser free throws, Tyger Campbell knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 66-65, and after a defensive stop, UCLA took its first lead since 10-9 thanks to a Jules Bernard layup. The two squads would continue to trade baskets in the final minutes, but MSU remained on top.

With 38 seconds to play and the Spartans leading 77-74, Jaquez was fouled by Henry, sending him to the line for the 1-and-1 free throw attempts. He missed the first, but the Bruins got the offensive rebound and found Jaquez again for an and-one layup over Marcus Bingham Jr. He converted the free throw to make it 77-77 with 29 seconds to play. 

Izzo called timeout with 16 seconds remaining. Off the inbound play, Henry missed a mid-range jumper from the left wing, and the two squads headed to overtime.

Juzang cracked open the bonus basketball for UCLA with back-to-back layups, making it 81-77. The overtime period consisted of tired offense and strong defense on both sides. Langford went 1-for-2 on a free throw trip to cut it to 81-78, but on the ensuing possession, Bernard found Riley for a slam to put the Bruins up five with 52 seconds to play.

Langford made it interesting with a quick layup to cut the UCLA lead to three, but it would be the final MSU points as Izzo and the Spartans decided to foul Riley, who made one free throw to make it 84-80 with 26 seconds to play. A two-possession game, the Bruins sunk their free throws in closing moments to hang on for the victory.

Henry finished with 18 points to lead the Spartans, while Jaquez’s 27 points led the Bruins. 

All student-athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility in wake of COVID-19, so it remains to be seen if Langford will return to MSU for an incomprehensible sixth season. If not, his final game as a Spartan consisted of a well-rounded 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

With the victory, the Bruins advance to the East Region to face No. 6 BYU in the Round of 64. Tip-off is set for 9:40 p.m. on Saturday.

Follow Trent Balley on Twitter at @TrentBalley.